The luxury cruise space at the large ship level is getting more crowded with more options. Alongside Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, Cunard and Regent Seven Seas, premium lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC have introduced expansive suites and various luxury oriented offerings.
Perhaps with the increasing clutter of new launches, renovations, new concepts (Crystal has launched yacht and river cruises this year, plus private jet tours), Regent figured one way to get extra coverage for the launch of its Seven Seas Explorer was for its parent company chairman Frank Del Rio to make provocative statements, such as crowning his newest addition, “The Most Luxurious Ship Ever Built.”
From a PR standpoint it certainly worked. There was live television coverage by CBS, CNBC and Bloomberg from Monaco to mark her maiden voyage earlier this month.
While making dramatic pronouncements about your new vessel has not always worked out well (see, Bruce Ismay, Chairman, White Star Line, Titanic), we wanted to get an expert view on whether or not Seven Seas Explorer is going to live up to the hype.
Industry newsletter Cruise Week, which was on the maiden voyage reported, “Regent Seven Seas Explorer features hundreds of crystal hand-crafted chandeliers, classic décor, lots of Murano glass, and scads of Carrera marble and granite, over an acre of each.”
It continued, “In the restaurants, you will find custom Versace and Bernardaud china. Artwork, nearly all handpicked by (parent company Chairman Frank) Del Rio and his wife Marcia, includes a pair of Picassos that adorn the entrance to the Regent Suite. Another pair of Picassos hangs in the bar of Prime 7, the steak house on Seven Seas Explorer.”
It noted Regent budgeted $450 million and went over budget, writing, “One estimate puts Seven Seas Explorer at $609,000 per berth. Even at budget, the vessel is the most expensive luxury ship ever built.”
At the same time, as they say, “Horses for courses.”
We all have different tastes, and what one calls elegant and refined, another may not like. Most importantly, the experience in a luxury hotel or ship is often dependent on whether or not you are happy with your accommodations.
Mary Jean Tully is Founder/CEO of Tully Luxury Travel. A perennial A-List travel advisor as named by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, she is a top seller of luxury cruises across virtually every line. In other words, her expertise is matching the right customer to the right ship, and putting them in the right cabin. To that end, I asked Tully to give you a walk through, specifically on the different cabin types, as well as her review of the ship, and most importantly, her take on what type of traveler will enjoy the Seven Seas Explorer experience.
Tully’s overall assessment is positive, and she says anyone who appreciates the décor and vibe of a Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton will feel at home. It’s upscale, but not stuffy. She calls the décor “timeless elegance, well-done, not overdone, but with attention to detail.”
But first of all, where will Seven Seas Explorer be sailing?
This year she will be in the Med until November, before returning next April and May, then spending June to September 2017 in Northern Europe (Russia, Scandinavia, UK, Ireland). This winter she will be in the Caribbean (10 to 20 nights including St. Barts, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and some other interesting ports). In between, she will do trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises, which if you prefer being at sea over in port, are good choices.
The ship itself is 735 ft. long and 102 ft. wide, and has 552 crew and 750 guests. It was built by the Fincantieri yards in Italy and weighs in at 54,000 gross tonnes and can make 23.5 knots.
For comparison, if you sailed on Crystal Symphony, it’s 781 ft. long, 99 ft. wide and at 51,044 gross tonnes carries 922 passengers with 545 crew. Seabourn Odyssey goes 650 ft. by 84. ft., with 450 passengers and 335 crew. The Queen Mary 2 goes at 148,528 gross tonnes, is 1,132 ft. by 135 ft. and carries 2,695 passengers with 1,253 crew. In other words, in the luxury category there are some big differences.
Tully says Seven Seas Explorer’s layout has “a very nice flow,” meaning that there are plenty of small private spaces to find a comfortable chair and catch up on email or sort photos on your tablet. Outside, she says, there is no shortage of deck chairs for those of you who like the sun, and “you never feel crowded.”
If you have concerns about staying in touch while on a cruise, Tully (above) says, “WiFi was excellent. Everyone was on WiFi and it was amazing. The bandwidth is exceptional.”
The ship is mainly no-smoking, although there is a cigar lounge and Tully noted for smokers, there is an enclosed dome near the pool so they can conveniently grab a hit without impacting other guests.
Regent offers free unlimited shore excursions. In this case, she said for some ports they work, but in others not so much. She says in about half of ports she will organize private tours for her customers so they can maximize the time they spend doing what they want as well as getting a more personalized experience as opposed to following a group. That said, it means on Regent you are subsidizing the tours for everyone else.
Tully lauds the variety and quality of dining as “outstanding,” as well as the Canyon Ranch Spa and the interactive onboard cooking school (More details on all of these below).
Luxury cruise lines very much want to attract the 30 to 50 year old customer, and to that end, she thinks Seven Seas Explorer is a good choice if you fit into that category by birth or mindset. “It’s like going from place to place in a Four Seasons (hotel).” There are extensive fitness facilities, a lap pool and even handball courts, so you can be as active as you are on land.
The drawback Tully says is the ship is still working through service issues as the crew gets its rhythm. “I would give it two or three months,” she told DGAE. At the same time, she notes there are some of us who like to be first and understand it takes times to get the kinks out.
The wide variety of cabin types (all are called suites, although the lower categories don’t have truly separate living and bedroom areas), means a number of interesting options, according to Tully.
And while modern cruise ships have state-of-the-art stabilization, she says cabin choice is particularly important. Midship tends to be the smoothest ride. There are also very nice suites, not necessarily the most expensive, but top notch, and large enough so you will be comfortable in your cabin. Lastly, she says, while Deck 10 has some excellent suites, for customers who are noise sensitive, it is right below the pool deck, and you may hear footsteps as well as the crew moving chairs early in the morning.
At 3,026 sq. ft. of interior space and $10,000 per night, the 2-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom Regent Suite is designed to be competitive with top hotel suites around the world, and by all reports it is.
There are two Picasso lithographs personally picked by the company chairman. There is a $250,000 Steinway grand piano designed by Dakota Jackson, and a $90,000 Savoir No. 1 bed that reportedly cost $60,000 to install.
You get a private car and driver in each port, something that could easily run over $1,000 per day, and you get unlimited Canyon Ranch treatments, including in your suite if you prefer. Tully says, there is a post treatment area in your suite, with specialized shower, and an ocean-view hot tub (see video in the Overview). There are also full bottles of top shelf liquor complimentary, and unlimited free laundry and dry cleaning, and of course as with all guests, all dining throughout the ship is included.
The suite has a 1,417 sq. ft. wraparound balcony on Deck 14 at the front of the ship (three decks above the bridge), so when you come into port, you have the best views in the house. Adding it all together, I would rate the suite an excellent value when I compared it to the top suites at the top hotels in many of the ports you will be visiting.
Tully says the suite is great for entertaining, as well as for those of you who want to enjoy the vacation in privacy. There are 10 additional suites on Deck 14, and Tully sees selling it as a nice area to “takeover” if you want to travel with friends and family in close proximately, in essence creating an entire deck dedicated to your group. As with the Master and Grand Suites (below), you are guaranteed a reservation at the restaurant of your choice each night. There are three walk-in closets and two personal safes. You can also have room service from any of the fine dining restaurants, and you have butler service, something included in the higher category suites.
There are four 2-bedroom Master Suites at the stern of Decks 8 and 9. Size of each ranges 1,064-1,114 sq. ft. and wraparound balcony size ranges from 831-994 sq. ft. There is a large living room, separate dining area for four and a bar with stools. Again, you can have room service from any restaurant during their service hours, in addition to the regular 24-hour menu. There are two full marble and stone detailed bathrooms.
Tully says the Master and Grand (below) are good choices for those customers who want to be able to entertain, or would like their suite to be the gathering places for their group. The location in the stern also provides excellent views as you watch ports fade away in the wake of your vessel.
There are four 1-BR, 2-full bathroom Grand Suites, two that split the front of Deck 12, below the Regent Suite, and two at the stern of Deck 7.
There is a full living area, dining table that seats six and balcony that ranges 732-916 sq. ft (Deck 7 has the larger balconies). Interiors range from 854-920 sq. ft.
Couples will appreciate the 2 full baths in a 1-BR suite Tully says, “So they can both get ready at the same time.” The same goes for the Explorer Suite (below).
There are four 1,013 sq. ft. Explorer suites, two on Deck 10 midship, which is where you may be impacted by noise on the pool deck above. The two Tully recommends are at the front of Deck 9, each with a 336 sq. ft. balcony.
“If I had a choice of any suite, I would pick the Explorer Suite,” Tully says.
Seven Seas Suite SS1/SS2
The difference between 1-bedroom, 1.5. bath SS1 (below) and SS2 is the former have larger balconies. Interior space ranges from 577-655 sq. ft. Balconies range from 166-263 sq. ft.
Of the six SS1s, two are on Deck 10 with four on Deck 9. For SS2, there are two each on Deck 10 and 9 midship. On Deck 8 and 7, Seven Seas Suites are at the front of the ship.
Tully says, “They’re very comfortable. They have large verandas, so you can have two lounge chairs and a table.
The 450 sq. ft. Penthouse Suites can be found on multiple decks with balconies ranging from 111-176 sq. ft. This is the lowest category with butler service. The bedroom and living room area are divided by a wall that encompass large flat screen TVs on either side, but there is not a formal separation, so it is more akin to what traditionalists would call a junior suite.
This category ranges 415-464 sq. ft. and Tully calls them “good size,” and a choice for somebody who doesn’t spend much time in their cabin and thus doesn’t want to spend more for space they don’t need. This category is a good example of why to use a good travel agent. For example, Deck 6 from 608 to 617 are all the same price, but 614 and 617 have smaller verandas, Tully pointed out to me, something it might be hard to discern if you haven’t been aboard the ship. You can divide the bed and living area by a blackout curtain that pulls across the width of the room.
Superior Suites are 332 sq. ft. with an 83 sq. ft. balcony. Deluxe Veranda Suite/Veranda Suite categories are 219 sq. ft. with 88 sq. ft. balconies. The bedroom and living area is separated by a curtain in these suites.
Bloomberg reported that Seven Seas Explorer is paying top chefs more than the captain, as the line makes its play to live up to its luxury promise. One key is diversity of fine dining restaurants, says Tully. All of the restaurants are included in the price, and you can eat as many times as you want at each one, but only the Regent, Master and Grand suites guarantee your selection every night. Tully says they will source virtually anything you want off menu with 24 hours notice, and while it’s always smart to communicate dietary restrictions before you embark, there are special vegan menus available.
“Outstanding,” says Tully of the pan-Asian menu at Pacific Rim on Deck 5 that includes dishes like grilled Korean barbecue lamb chops, wok-fried beans, eryngii mushroom and gochujang dressing. Large windows provide ocean views as you dine.
Chartreuse is “a classic French menu with a modern twist…chic Parisian fine dining” restaurant discovered during an evening stroll. Occupying the rear half of Deck 10 large windows provide high-level views. According to Regent, the kitchen uses “both classic and modern techniques for a multiple course celebration of French gastronomy.”
Prime 7 is on the opposite side of the stern across from Chartreuse so has similar nice views, and “is probably the best crab legs and Bone-in Ribeye I have ever had,” says Tully. Cruise Critic calls it “one of the best chop houses at sea.” Décor features glass, metal and granite, creating a feel “you have arrived at an iconic members-only club.” There is an attractive bar for a pre-dinner drink before being taken to your personal banquette.
Compass Rose is the flagship restaurant of the company. It is what one might call the main dining room, and is outfitted with rich woods contrasted by light marble stones and mother of pearl with an elegant color theme of light shades of blue, white, gold and silver, and a notable oversize chandelier. There is ice blue lighting in the evening to help set the tone for a romantic dinner. The menu is Continental, and breakfast is served here, as well as a special Canyon Ranch low-calorie/low-fat menu. The editor of Cruise Critic traveling on the inaugural recommends the ravioli stuffed with fontina cheese and osso bucco.
Serving breakfast and lunch, La Veranda is “casual” and offers regional specialties that often reflect the cuisines of the countries called on, such as Grilled Lamb Chops with Spanish Sherry Sauce or pan-sautéed Mediterranean Sea Bass. Dishes are presented in a buffet style that displays the diversity of the menu. La Veranda also features pizza and a shaded, open-air veranda for dining al fresco.
Sette Mari At La Veranda
Inspired by the views of the Italian Riviera, the ambiance is Med glamour. Deep blues and whites, contrasted with terrazzo floors and teak wood accents, adorn the interior spaces and there is an al fresco dining area. In the evenings, La Veranda transforms into Sette Mari at La Veranda, where tables are candlelit. The menu features a variety of antipasto, homemade pastas, and main courses and desserts from various areas of Italy.
Located on Deck 5 mid-ship, The Café is for barista prepared coffee drinks, pastries, gourmet sandwiches and homemade cookies.
Adjacent to the swimming pool on Deck 11, the Pool Grill offers all-day casual dining, and the menu rotates to reflect local ports. It also includes an ice cream stand and favorites such as chicken wings and a Cuban sandwich.
Tully says entertainment aboard is more than suitable, with the cliché Broadway style shows catering to traditional luxury passengers. Beyond that is a variety of live entertainment, such as a Spanish guitarist and other musical performers in various lounges.
Located on Deck 5 mid-ship, the Meridian Lounge is a gathering point before and after for those attending performances in the Constellation Theater.
“The casino (on Deck 4) is a little small but it works,” says Tully.
She likes the Connoisseur Club forward on Deck 11 as a place for a cigar with its leather armchairs and a club-like atmosphere. She also likes the numerous small and private spaces such as the library, which she says is a great place to catch up on iPad activities or do emails.
The Observatory Lounge, forward on Deck 11, Tully says is “great for sailing in.” It features music, afternoon tea, as well as a good venue for pre-and after-dinner drinks.
Of course a large part of cruising is exploring the ports you visit, however, Seven Seas Explorer is trying to add to the depth of programming aboard the ship.
The Culinary Arts Kitchen is getting lots of early praise, with its open teaching kitchen and floor to ceiling sea view windows providing an inspirational venue. Tully says, “The cooking school is unbelievable. It’s like you’re part of a TV show. My husband thought it was fantastic.”
The culinary workstations are equipped with top-of-the-line induction cooktops, stainless steel sinks and a comprehensive collection of cooking essentials. Guests attending classes receive individualized hands on instruction. The curriculum is designed for a wide range of tastes and cater to all levels of aptitude, from beginner to experienced chef instructors.
Classes vary by voyage, and include Everything French, Majestic Mediterranean, The Beautiful Bird, Gone Fishing, Cooking With Fire, At Home Italian, Who Wants Dessert, Teatime At the Abbey, Modern Classics, Viva Fiesta, and Healthy Kitchen, utilizing Canyon Ranch techniques. There is also a class to teach you to prepare appetizers from around the world, and more.
Canyon Ranch Spaclub/Fitness
Tully says the two-level Canyon Ranch Spaclub is the best she has seen at sea, and is comparable to visiting a top land-based spa.
“I was blown away. I felt like I was at Canyon Ranch. It’s the best spa I’ve ever seen on any ship,” she says. There are eight treatment rooms, including one for couples. An extensive menu includes Ayurveda, Shirodhara, Reiki, Reflexology, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, plus a half-dozen wraps (Seaweed, Detox), and a South Atlantic Coffee Scrub. Except for the Regent Suite, treatments are not included and run between $90 and $350, about the same as you would find at 5-star land resorts.
There is also an infinity pool and massive gym area. Cruise Critic says the variety of machines, including free weights is pretty close to what you would expect from any top end city gym. There is an array of classes, including yoga, aerobics and Pilates.
You can also arrange personal trainers, take a class on shedding pounds and even get a Gait Analysis.
Tully likes the four-chair hair salon, which offers full and partial highlights as well as tints. I counted six different options for manicures and seven for pedicures, including one for athletes.
On Deck 12 is a dedicated sports area featuring a deck shuffleboard, putting greens, golf nets, bocce court and paddle tennis.
While there is WiFi throughout the ship, there is also a full-service business center in case you didn’t bring your laptop or need support services, including printing.
There are ship services 24 hours a day much like a hotel front desk.
Cruise Critic notes there is no swimwear allowed indoors, so bring cover-ups. Dress is generally relaxed, upscale and casual. Jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps, shorts and sneakers are out for the public areas after 6 pm. There are optional formal nights, but for the most part, you will see men with at least a blazer for the evenings, and you won’t be out of place if you want to wear a suit, but ties are not necessary. And Tully points out, the size of many suites make private dining on your veranda an attractive option.
While the Regent Suite is $10,000 per night, depending on the sailing, lead-in pricing is under $2,000 per night for two people in a cabin, and the higher end suites range from $3,000 to $5,000 per night. Tully can help you get the most value for your dollar, and is in the know about special pricing. I’m always amazed at how she knows about the best cabins in each category, and the ones to stay away from, which as I have said, can make all the difference.
· 2016 | “Cruise Line with Highest Client Satisfaction” (less than 1,100 passengers) – TravelAge West WAVE Awards
· 2016 | U.S. News & World Report’s Best Cruise Lines Rankings
o “Best Cruise Lines in the Mediterranean” (#1 ranking)
o “Best Cruise Lines for Romance” (#2 ranking)
o “Best Luxury Cruise Lines” (#2 ranking)
· 2105, 2014, 2013 | “Best Cruise Line Small Ship” – Baxter Travel Media Agents Choice Award
· 2015 | “Best Shore Excursions (ocean-going) in Cruise Category” – TravelAge West WAVE Awards
· 2014 | Travel + Leisure
o “World’s Best Large-Ship Cruise Line” (#3 ranking)
o “World’s Best Small-Ship Cruise Line” (Nominated)
· 2014 | “Best for Luxury” – Cruise Critic U.K. Editors’ Picks
· 2014 | “NACTA Luxury Cruise Line of the Year” – National Association of Career Travel Agents
· 2014, 2012 | “Best Cruise Line for Luxury Ocean Cruises” – Luxury Travel Advisor Awards of Excellence
· 2013 | “Best Large-Ship Cruise Line” (#2 ranking) – Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards
· 2013 | “Notable Culinary Cruise Line” – Saveur Culinary Travel Awards
Mary Jean Tully via email at email@example.com or phone at +1 905-275-3030